Music Visions for 2022: A look forward (and backward) at the Omaha and national indie music scenes…

Category: Blog,Column — Tags: , — @ 10:41 am January 2, 2022
A look into 2022…

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Who could have predicted what we lived through over the past 12 months? Well, I guess I could. Before I give you a glimpse of what’s to come in ’22, let’s see how I did predicting ’21.

2021 Prediction: Vaccinating enough people so it feels safe to go to concerts again will take a lot longer than anyone expects. The Waiting Room, Reverb Lounge and The Slowdown will begin booking touring bands again beginning in July. O’Leaver’s will plug in the amps in early fall, alongside The Brothers Lounge.

Reality: That timeline was pretty straight-on, except for O’Leaver’s, which just started up again in December.

2021 Prediction: The Maha Music Festival will be back in late summer, though we’ll all still be wearing masks and social distancing (sort of). South By Southwest, which takes place in March, will remain a digital-only affair.

Reality: Pretty much a direct hit.

2021 Prediction: Save Our Stages legislation will pass, eventually.

Reality: The legislation did pass and many venues were helped, but for some, it was too little too late.

2021 Prediction: Despite federal SOS and CARES Act money finally flowing, venues will continue to go out of business, including a major Omaha player.

Reality: We lost The Brothers Lounge as well as Barley Street Tavern, though there’s no direct evidence that COVID did them in.

2021 Prediction: Under pressure from some very large artists, streaming services (and labels) will be forced to look at how they’re compensating talent.

Reality: Nothing’s changed, though Bandcamp now tosses a few extra bucks to performers by waiving fees on Bandcamp Fridays — the first Friday of every month.

2021 Prediction: After a year of ordering stuff online, shoppers will rush back to brick-and-mortars post pandemic, and record stores will be a big beneficiary.

Reality: There are now four record stores in the Old Market alone, more than before the advent of digital media.

2021 Prediction: Live-streamed rock shows will become a new revenue generator for bands and venues that learned how to properly produce and monetize the events.

Reality: A few bands have done it (Bob Mould, for example), but venues, not so much.

2021 Prediction: The floodgates will burst as artists rush to release recordings they’ve held until they could return to the road.

Reality: Is it me or were there more albums than ever released last year?

2021 Prediction: Bob Dylan won’t be missing that song catalog he just sold to Universal.

Reality: Maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t.

2021 Prediction: Bands and performers we’ll be talking about this time next year: Arcade Fire, Bright Eyes, The Faint, The Good Life, David Nance, Courtney Barnett, Little Brazil, Nick Cave, The National, Angel Olson, Modest Mouse, Phoebe Bridgers and U2.

Reality: Meh, though we did hear from Courtney, Nick and Angel; and Phoebe is as popular as ever.

2021 Prediction: I’ve given up on my annual “Conor Oberst on SNL” prediction, which almost guarantees this is the year it’ll happen.

Reality: Hey, maybe Conor doesn’t want to play SNL …?

Final count: I’m giving myself 8 out of 11. Best year ever? OK, moving on to 2022…

Prediction: COVID-19 will have its last ugly gasp this winter and then will quickly fade away (except from our memories). By late summer, music venues’ mask and vax mandates will be a thing of the past.

Prediction: With TikTok creating the next generation of pop stars (Tai Verdes ring a bell?), and The Mountain Goats “No Children” going viral, more indie acts will take advantage of the platform. God help us all.

Prediction: The Maha Music Festival will be back and at full capacity at Stinson Park. But it won’t be alone. Another Nebraska-based, indie-flavored, day-long music festival will be announced in ’22 that will be in direct competition.

Prediction: With two small music venues closing in ’21, watch as a new small live music venue opens to help fill the void.

Prediction: Helping fill those small-venue stages will be an army of next-generation indie bands created during the pandemic, many consisting of children of the aught-era indie bands that made Omaha famous.

Prediction: Unfortunately, when it comes to popular national indie acts, we’ll continue to be “NOmaha” for national tours.

Prediction: Look for another big-time indie music name to be taken down by a #metoo-style scandal.

Prediction: Coming off one of its most successful years (The Spirit of the Beehive, Indigo De Souza, Hand Habits) and after opening offices in Los Angeles and New York City, Saddle Creek Records will make a major announcement that will impact the label’s Omaha legacy.

Prediction: Bands and performers we’ll be talking about this time next year: David Nance, Little Brazil, Modest Mouse, Christian Lee Hutson, DIIV, Spoon, Desaparecidos, Yo La Tengo, Jenny Lewis and (once again) Phoebe Bridgers.

Prediction: No Filter 2021 will be the last Rolling Stones tour.

Prediction: A certain music journalist will finally seriously begin compiling information for an oral history of the Omaha/Nebraska music scene. When / if it ever gets published is anyone’s guess.

Prediction: After years of being shut out, a Saddle Creek Records act will finally perform on SNL. It’s about time.

Over The Edge is a monthly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at tim.mcmahan@gmail.com.

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Lazy-i Best of 2021 Compilation

Relive the year gone by with the  Lazy-i Best of 2021 Comp CD!

The collection includes my favorite indie tunes I’ve come across throughout last year as part of my tireless work as a music critic for Lazy-i. Among those included: Low, Brad Hoshaw, Azure Ray, Sufjan Stevens, Wet Leg, Parquet Courts, Courtney Barnett, Hand Habits, Indigo De Souza, Flyte and lots more.  The full track listing is here.

To enter, send me an email with your mailing address to tim.mcmahan@gmail.com. Hurry, contest deadline is Monday, Jan. 10, at midnight.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2022 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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2021 Music Year in Review, or The Year of Resiliency (favorite albums, live shows, etc.)…

Category: Blog,Column — Tags: , , , — @ 1:55 pm December 7, 2021

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Ah, the annual Year in Review article. Well, The Reader now limits this to a mere 800 words, so that forced me to write tight and leave out some things that I’d normally include. You can read The Reader version of the article right here. It features a big photo of No Thanks playing one of the last shows at The Brothers Lounge (though it wasn’t “the last show”… I didn’t make it to that one). Or you can read the year in review article below:

2021 Music Year in Review

…or, The Year of Resiliency

I know, I know… it’s only December, and anything can happen before the year is actually over, but I ain’t got that luxury, deadlines being what they are. Rather than wait until January after you’ve (hopefully) long forgotten and moved on from 2021, I thought I’d do the recap now while it’s fresh in your memory (because we’re still living it).

This time last year, things looked rather bleak.

Venues were closed, tours were cancelled, we were hunkered down in our bunkers, wiping down our groceries and wondering if we’d ever see live music again. The worst of COVID-19 was still ahead of us. And if you were lucky, missing your favorite bands was all you were worried about, as the death toll continued to rise. There were whispers of a vaccine, but that was still a long way away. The only glimmer of hope was that the Commander in Boob had just been defeated, though he promised not to go quietly, and, by God, he kept his word.

By February a vaccine was in hand, but the club owners and promoters still predicted it wouldn’t be until the fall of 2021 or the following winter before bookings would look anything like “normal.” And so, the clubs stayed dark, and the closest we got to live music was streamed to our computer screens.

Finally, toward the end of May, live music slowly began to return. I attended my first live show at Dr. Jack’s Drinkery May 29, a farewell gig by indie band Bull Nettles. But it wasn’t until July that venues really started booking on a regular basis, and national touring bands began to hit the road again. The Maha Festival and Farnam Fest were announced and pulled off without becoming a “super spreader” event. Maha even sold out its limited-capacity one-day event.

Despite a readily available vaccine, people still wore masks at shows — and still do to this day. Every face at the near-capacity Nov. 6 Soccer Mommy concert at The Waiting Room was masked throughout the evening. We were back, sort of.

A few positive things stood out during this Year of Resiliency:

The music never stopped. Artists continued to record and release new albums, most of them created in isolation during the height of the pandemic and some among the best of their careers.

New venues were announced. You’d think coming out of a pandemic, investors would be gun-shy about pouring money into new music venues, but three of the largest new developments were announced or broke ground this year: refurbishment of Sokol Auditorium, renamed The Admiral, the Steelhouse Omaha standing-room live music hall by Omaha Performing Arts, and the massive Astro amphitheater project, which — when completed in January 2023 — will host 2,500 people indoors and 5,000 outdoors. Each project is a gamble that the worst is behind us.

Record stores resurged. With so much forced alone time, people continued to fall in love with their vinyl. The Old Market now has as many record stores as it had during vinyl’s heyday, with Grapefruit Records at 1125 Jackson Street joining Vinyl Cup Records and the old favorite, Homer’s.

But as COVID-19’s bloody tide recedes, it leaves behind business casualties. While large clubs like Slowdown and the 1% venues are coming back better than ever, the smaller venues haven’t been so lucky. The Barley Street Tavern in Benson was the first to close its doors for good, though the room reopened under another name and new management. O’Leaver’s, arguably the best place in Omaha to see small live rock shows, still hasn’t reopened its stage. There’s hope it could soon return.

But the biggest loss of all was the permanent closing of The Brothers Lounge at the end of October. More punk bar than music venue, The Brothers was a way station for the misfits, oddballs and troubled geniuses of Omaha who preferred their music garbed in black leather and blood. The Brothers was where everyone ended up at last call. Now it’s had its last call, and the auction hammer falls Dec. 12.

Winners and sinners, that’s what we’re left with after a pandemic. Goodbye and good riddance, 2021. At least you were better than 2020. And 2022 will see us thanking our lucky stars.

Before we go, what would a Music Year in Review be without my list of favorite albums of 2021 (in no particular order):

Flyte, This Is Really Going to Hurt (Island)

Indigo De Souza, Any Shape You Take (Saddle Creek)

The Weather Station, Ignorance (Fat Possum)

Turnstile, Glow On (Roadrunner)

Low, Hey What (Sub Pop)

Cassandra Jenkins, An Overview On Phenomenal Nature (Ba Da Bing!)

Sufjan Stevens & Angelo De Augustine, A Beginner’s Mind (Asthmatic Kitty)

Parquet Courts, Sympathy for Life (Rough Trade)

Hand Habits, Fun House (Saddle Creek)

Mdou Moctar, Afrique Victime (Matador)

Strand of Oaks, In Heaven (Galacticana)

Wet Leg, “Wet Dream” b/w “Chaise Longe” (Domino)

Over The Edge is a monthly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at tim.mcmahan@gmail.com.

So what’s missing from the article? The list of best shows of the year. After 2020, last year was a veritable bonanza of shows, but that said, they were still few and far between. My favorites are almost all the shows I ended up attending:

Bull Nettles at Dr. Jack’s Drinkery, May 29 — This was my first show after COVID, and the last show forever for Bull Nettles, as the band’s frontman, Travis Linn a.k.a. Travis Sing, has moved out of Omaha.

A Tomato A Day at The Little Gallery in Blackstone, June 12 — The first performance by Brion Poloncic (formerly of Cactus Nerve Thang) in years, was in support of an art opening of his latest work. Is there a Cactus reunion somewhere in the future?

Digital Leather at The Sydney, June 26 — The line-up: Frontman Shawn Foree, was backed by long-time DL drummer Jeff Lambelet; Blake Kostszewa, synths; newcomer Bobby Hussy on guitar, Erica Van Engen on synths, and MiWi La Lupa on bass, playing songs off COVID-era release New Wave Gold.

Idaho at Reverb Lounge, July 8 — First touring act post-COVID for me, and my return to Reverb Lounge. And one of my favorite shows from an act who made its mark almost 30 years ago.

Maha Music Festival, Stinson Park, July 31 — Omaha’s favorite festival was back after the COVID hiatus, sold-out (though tickets were limited to 8k), with perfect weather and great sets by Japanese Breakfast and Thundercat, among others.

Petfest, behind Pet Shop, Aug. 14 — And then along came the Delta variant, but that didn’t stop folks from showing up to this small outdoor festival that featured the best collection of local bands assembled in the past couple years.

Grocer at Reverb Lounge, Aug. 17 — The Philly band’s style was in the early Pixies tradition, angular and cool riding high on the bass line and backbeat drums, while guitarist Emily Daly shredded feedback-drenched leads run through a muffled effects pedal.

Elvis Costello at Memorial Park, Aug. 28 — A surprisingly light crowd took in a greatest hits set by a legend. For once the park concert had more going for it than the fireworks.

No Thanks at Brothers Lounge Sept. 17 — Little did we know this would be one of the last shows at The Brothers Lounge, as the club closed its doors for good at the end of October.

Indigo De Souza at The Slowdown Oct. 2 — The Saddle Creek Records band played the big stage for my return to Slowdown post-pandemic. Great set, highlighted guitarist, Dexter Webb, who reminded me of Mr. Lindsey Buckingham.

Tokyo Police Club at Slowdown Jr., Oct. 28 — First Slowdown Jr. show for me since the pandemic was a corker from a former Saddle Creek act, though some I talked to thought opener And How stole the show.

Soccer Mommy at The Waiting Room, Nov. 6 — Finally, a return to The Waiting Room for a near sold-out show, evidence that indie rock was alive and well and touring through Omaha.

Matt Whipkey and his band at The Jewell, Nov. 12 — Celebrating the release of his new LP, Hard, Whipkey was backed by what arguably was one of the best bands he’s ever assembled, in an effort to blow the lid off the downtown jazz club.

Criteria at The Waiting Room, Nov. 27 — Last but not least (and likely, not last of 2021) was the annual “holiday show” by the ever-young ’00’s band, sounding as good as ever. Long live rock and roll.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2021 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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#BFF & #BSS this weekend (Brion Poloncic (ex-Cactus Nerve Thang)) at Little Gallery; Kasher launches Home Phone; Grapefruit Records opens; and it’s Bandcamp Friday…

Hey there, here’s that column I mentioned last week about not updating my blog in so long and how it will live forever (or at least until I don’t). It’s published in the May issue of The Reader, and online here. Go read it!

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Brion Poloncic’s Weird Therapy opens at The Little Gallery Saturday.

It’s an anomaly similar to the perfect aligning of stars in the sky — both Benson First Friday and Blackstone Second Saturday are this weekend.

BFF you know about. BSS is a new art effort in Blackstone where galleries host openings. To celebrate, The Little Gallery Blackstone (formerly in Benson) is hosting Weird Therapy – a collection of 130 small ink-on-paper works by Brion Poloncic.

Local punk rock fans with a sense of history will remember Poloncic from his work the bands Tomato a Day and seminal Grass Records act Cactus Nerve Thang. Poloncic’s art is as mind-blowing as his music.

The show runs from 4 to 9 p.m. Saturday at The Little Gallery Blackstone, 144 So. 39th St. (inside The Mansion just north of Night Owl). The event is free, distance controlled, and wear a mask! Free beer! Come by and say hello.

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In music news, Tim Kasher of Cursive and The Good Life launched a new Patreon called Home Phone. The archive project is a mix of new songs under the Home Phone moniker: “Short, catchy, to-the-point jams – unreleased songs I’ve written for Cursive / The Good Life / solo material that never saw any light of any day,” Kasher said of the project.

The online subscription service costs $6 a month (or $5 a month with annual subscription). The Patreon site will also include live streams, and if this goes the way of other Patreons I’ve seen have, Kasher will be doing all kinds of outlandish things online in no time. Check it out at https://www.patreon.com/timkasher

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In other Kasher news, there’s a massively long video interview with Tim by Bringing It Backwards – the online interview show of American Songwriter magazine. The nearly hour-long interview delves deep into the history of Kasher’s music, Cursive, Saddle Creek Records and more. Check it below.

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Azure Ray has dropped yet another track from their forthcoming album, Remedy, out in June on Flower Moon Records. This one has a good beat, you can dance it, check it out.

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Grapefruit Records opens today in the Old Market.

Simon Joyner’s new record store in the Old Market, Grapefruit, is slated to open today at 11 a.m. The shop, located at 1125 Jackson St., Suite 5, will sell new and used records, and the space will also be the world headquarters of Joyner’s Grapefruit Records label.

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And lest I forget, it’s the first Friday of the month which means Bandcamp Friday – that day when Bandcamp waives fees on its download sales. Go to Bandcamp and buy some stuff!

That’s all I got. Have a great weekend!

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2021 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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Pitchfork’s 36 ‘Best Live Music Venues’ surviving COVID, includes Slowdown; Moderna’d (in the column)…

Category: Blog,Column — Tags: , , , — @ 8:13 am April 7, 2021
The Slowdown is a survivor.

Everyone’s favorite indie music tastemakers, Pitchfork, published an article Monday where it interviewed operators of 36 independent music venues on surviving COVID-19. Among them was Jason Kulbel of Slowdown.

The article gives a (very) brief history of the bar, described as being best know for “Modernizing live music in Omaha.”

Before the pandemic, Kulbel had hoped 2020 would be one of the most successful years in Slowdown’s history,” says writer Andy Cush. “Today, they’re operating with a reduced staff and plan to resume limited-capacity shows with local bands in April.

Kulbel gives a rather bleak view of what lies ahead.

Said Kulbel in the article: “‘Reopening is going to be really hard, because everything that you had before is gone. The staff is gone, the shows are gone. We’re opening with all local stuff, which is fine, but it’s not going to bring people out, it’s not what people really want to see as a whole. So you’re going to be opening as a skeleton of yourself. It would almost be easier just to open a brand new place.’”

Would it really?

Kulbel goes on to cite Against Me! as one of his favorite shows, though it’s not his favorite band. Read the full Slowdown section here.

Other Midwest venues featured in the Pitchfork article include First Avenue, Wooly’s in Des Moines, and The Hideout in Chicago.

Check out the full article here.

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Speaking of COVID-19, my column in this month’s issue of The Reader is about my experience getting Moderna’s and how the anti-vaxxers are going to really screw things up for the rest of us. Mark my words, we’re going to be wearing masks for a long time because of the conspiracy theorists and their reticence for getting shots.

The column is online here and, of course, in print wherever you find your copy of the The Reader.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2021 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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Local bands talk about returning to the stage (in the column); Slowdown announces reopening…

Category: Blog,Column — Tags: , , , — @ 8:30 am March 5, 2021
Jon Taylor of Domestica’s funky get-down space.

The Slowdown announced Tuesday that they’re reopening in April. The plan calls for shows only on the main stage to make more room for social distancing as the pandemic begins to wind down. It’ll be a fun opportunity for smaller bands who are used to playing the small room to try the big stage and its massive sound and lighting system.

Their first show is April 2 featuring Journey cover band Recaptured followed by Two Drag Club April 9.

Slowdown joins The Waiting Room and Reverb, who announced late last month that their stages are reopening.

When will the majority of our favorite local indie acts be returning to stage? That was the subject of my March column in The Reader, which is online right here. I contacted a dozen local musicians to find out when they’re coming back, and their responses underscore their caution as COVID-19 is still very much with us in this community.

The story is in the printed edition of the paper, which should be in the racks around town now or very shortly. Check it out. And heck, you can also read it below:

What Are They Waiting For?

As COVID-19 retreats, the stage has been set. It’s the artists who have cold feet.

Last month I told you where some of the more important local stages for indie music stand in regard to booking shows. A year after the pandemic began, places like The Slowdown, The Waiting Room and Reverb Lounge are reopening their stages. And while it’ll be some time before touring bands hit the road again, local acts are invited to plug in and rock on.

The only thing stopping that from happening are the bands themselves. I reached out to a dozen local musicians to find out when they’d play again on a local stage. Their answers reflected a serious respect for COVID-19.

Jon Taylor, lead guitarist for Lincoln-based seminal punk trio Domestica, is waiting for folks to get vaccinated. “Based on current vaccine shipping schedules, summer appears to be the earliest anyone should consider assembling large groups of humans for any reason,” Taylor said. He’s passed the pandemic time rocking out on his own glittering basement stage where, “I’m able to self-medicate with high volume until gigs happen.”

Domestica has been known to share a stage with Wagon Blasters, the tractor-punk powerhouse fronted by the inimitable Gary Dean Davis. Those with a sense of history will remember how these folks’ previous bands — Mercy Rule and Frontier Trust — were integral to Nebraska’s first wave of indie punk almost 30 years ago.

Davis has spent his downtime focusing on his record label — SPEED! Nebraska — which reissued Frontier Trust’s debut CD in June and released a new Mezcal Bros. album, Shakin’ Dog, in September.

“As Joe Strummer famously said, ‘The future is unwritten,’” Davis said. “Hopefully things can calm down over the summer, (and) we are able to return to playing shows. Maybe we’ll need to start off outside to keep everyone safe?”

Wagon Blasters bandmate, bassist Kate Williams, said while she would be comfortable on stage once vaccinations have reached the majority, “It will be strange to return to the small, intimate venues that I love, where the audience is right on top of the band.”

Williams hasn’t seen Davis or her other bandmates in person in a year. “Many of us are high-risk (or high-risk-adjacent) and aren’t comfortable practicing in an enclosed basement yet with each other, let alone playing in a room full of friends that we also haven’t seen in the last year,” she said. “It will happen though — I miss all of it so much!”

Caution also was the theme for legendary bassist/musician Dereck Higgins. “I’ll be 66 in July, and that is why I am being cautious and in no hurry to get out in the public gigging,” he said, pointing to fall for a possible return. In the meantime, he’s been recording new music and working on an art project with local choreographer Lauren Simpson.

Craig Fort of punk band Leafblower created an entirely new, outlaw-country-infused musical persona called Lightning Stills during the pandemic. “Obviously COVID is keeping us from booking anything, as well as neither project has been in the same room together in a year,” Fort said. “We all take this very seriously. Not being able to play shows is what’s keeping me from releasing anything physical. Without shows, I don’t have a booth to peddle my goods.”

Indie rockers See Through Dresses frontwoman Sara Bertuldo said her band is still together, “but we’re just focusing on different things at the moment. Some of us are back in school, focusing on work, and/or learning some new skills.” And she added, “We’ve also been working on our third album!”

One of my favorite songs released during the pandemic is “Snake in my Basement,” an infectious (in a good way) garage rocker by Those Far Out Arrows. Guitarist/vocalist Ben Keelan-White thinks his band will be back on stage possibly in early- to mid-summer.

“Outdoor shows seem more likely, but maybe some indoor venues might be willing to make some moves,” he said. “I feel like there is an optimism with more vaccine administration on the horizon. Nobody wants to be a part of a spreader event, but I think the type of individuals who want shows back would be absolutely willing to take the utmost precaution needed to go forward.”

“We’re all dying for shows, but nobody should die for shows,” said Aaron Gumm, half of the red hot electronic rock duo Glow in the Dark. “My parents in Iowa get their second shot next week, and my sister in Austin got her first today. Things are moving in the right direction.”

Some aren’t waiting to return to the stage. Josh Hoyer, one of the area’s best blues and soul voices, played a Sunday residency Feb. 21 at The Jewell in downtown Omaha.

“It wasn’t an easy decision, but it came down to me needing to get back to work and the venues needing to start getting people in or shutting down for good.” Hoyer said. “At this point, I am trusting people to do what is best for their health and the health of the community. So far, everything has been good, but the moment I feel that there is too much risk in any given venue, I will have to reassess my involvement with them. I think if people are intelligent about it, we can slowly get back to live entertainment.”

Darren Keen, the mastermind behind The Show Is the Rainbow and now a new electronic act, Problems, has a gig booked on St. Patrick’s Day at Boombox Social Club in Lincoln.

“As long as people are masked up and distanced, I’m OK with it at this point,” Keen said. “I’m still hesitant to book my own shows because I can’t honestly say, ‘You gotta come to this gig’ right now. I respect that people want to stay home and safe, and so if I can’t promote things 100% I’m not comfortable booking them.”

I saved the final word for Landon Hedges of one of my all-time favorite indie rock bands, Little Brazil. Hedges doesn’t know when he’ll be back on stage.

“It’s a matter of responsibility and feeling comfortable in the sort of environment that I’m used to playing a show or going to a show,” he said. “I want to do both. But this virus isn’t about me or what I want to do. I just want to try to do the right thing. It fucking sucks. You can quote me on that one.”

Over The Edge is a monthly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at tim.mcmahan@gmail.com. First published in The Reader, March 2021.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2021 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Lazy-i

Music Visions for 2021: A look forward (and backward) at the Omaha and national indie music scenes…

Category: Blog,Column — Tags: , — @ 1:25 pm January 4, 2021
Music visions for 2021.

It’s time to gaze into my crystal Peavey Amp and tell you what’s going to happen in the music world in 2021, but before I do (as I do every year), I’ll first look back at last year’s predictions. Only a stark-raving lunatic could have foreseen the rise of COVID-19 and its dreadful impact on the music industry. And yet… Let’s take a look:

2020 Prediction: One or two Omaha music venues will shut down permanently this year, while “those in charge” will begin to second-guess the proposed $109 million Omaha Performing Arts concert venue.

Reality: The Lookout Lounge and Barley Street Tavern both closed their doors, and rumor has it there’s some head-scratching going on over the OPA concert venue. Of course a pandemic played a role in both those predictions coming true…

2020 Prediction: A former Omaha Girls Rock student will break through in her own band on our local stages.

Reality: No one broke through on any stage in 2020.

2020 Prediction: In an effort to retain local talent, a new local nonprofit will form that will financially subsidize local musicians, their recording projects and their tours.

Reality: The only way this is going to happen is if I do it myself with Susie Buffett’s money.

2020 Prediction: The popularity of cassettes as a consumer format will continue as more artists choose to release new recordings on tape.

Reality: By July 2020, there was a 103 percent increase in cassette sales in the UK; still, cassette sales comprise less that 1 percent of the overall music market.

2020 Prediction: A major concert will be organized to bring out the vote in Nebraska’s 2nd District, which could play an important role in keeping Trump out of office.

Reality: NE2 did swing for Biden even if the pandemic prevented huge Democratic rallies in Omaha and elsewhere.

2020 Prediction: Despite capturing big sponsorships, Maha will not book a Lizzo-sized headliner this year, instead opting to spend more money on high-end bands across both festival nights.

Reality: The Maha Festival didn’t happen (but having seen the proposed line-up that was never made public, the prediction was spot on).

2020 Prediction: “The trend of booking fewer touring indie bands at Omaha venues will continue. We’ll be lucky to get one A-list indie show per month.”

Reality: When you’re right, you’re right.

2020 Prediction: We’ll all be singing “Deacon Blues” in 2020.

Reality: Donald Fagen did not join Walter Becker last year, though we all were singing the blues.

2020 Prediction: Bands we’ll be talking about next year: Algiers, Bright Eyes, Criteria, Perfume Genius, King Krule, David Nance Band, The War on Drugs.

Reality: All released albums in 2020 despite the pandemic, but we’re still waiting on those new ones by Beach House, Kendrick Lamar, Slowdive and St. Vincent.

2020 Prediction: Conor Oberst will finally walk across the Saturday Night Live stage.

Reality: Here I thought, at the very least, Conor would make a cameo alongside Phoebe Bridgers. Nope.

Final score: Around 50/50, with help from a national pandemic. So what about 2021? As shitty as 2020 was, things will only get better, but…

Prediction: Vaccinating enough people where it feels safe to go to concerts again will take a lot longer than anyone expects. The Waiting Room, Reverb Lounge and The Slowdown all will begin booking touring bands again beginning in July. O’Leaver’s will plug in the amps in early fall, alongside The Brothers Lounge.

Prediction: The Maha Music Festival will be back in late summer, though we’ll all still be wearing masks and social distancing (sort of). On the other hand, South By Southwest, which takes place in March, will remain a digital-only affair.

Prediction: As of this writing (Dec. 16), Save Our Stages legislation as part of a revised CARES Act has not passed, but it will pass eventually, only to be followed by a Save Our Stages II Act.

Prediction: Despite federal SOS and CARES Act money finally flowing, venues will continue to go out of business (including a major Omaha player) because gun-shy audiences still fearing COVID-19 will drag their feet before returning to the clubs.

Prediction: Under pressure from some very large artists, streaming services (and labels) will be forced to look at how they’re compensating talent, considering streaming revenues increased 21 percent in 2019 vs. the previous year, while Spotify now boasts 320 million monthly active users as of Sept. 30.

Prediction: After a year of ordering stuff online, shoppers will rush back to brick-and-mortars post pandemic, and record stores are going to be one of the big beneficiaries. Watch them enjoy their biggest 3rd and 4th quarter sales in years.

Prediction: One bi-product of the pandemic — live-streamed rock shows — will become a new revenue generator for bands and venues who learned how to properly produce and monetize online events. Look for venues to offer streaming tickets right alongside live show tickets on a regular basis.

Prediction: Home recording was already a thing, but after spending a year stuck at home, bands and musicians have honed their skills. Look for more home-recorded releases in 2021, though formal studios will be plenty busy servicing the big stars who have been holding their water throughout the prior year.

Prediction: While there was a surprising number of albums released in 2020, watch the floodgates burst this year, as artists rush to release recordings they’ve held onto until they could return to the road.

Prediction: Bob Dylan won’t be missing that song catalog he just sold to Universal after this year.

Prediction: Bands and performers we’ll be talking about this time next year: Arcade Fire, Bright Eyes, The Faint, The Good Life, David Nance, Courtney Barnett, Little Brazil, Nick Cave, The National, Angel Olson, Modest Mouse, Phoebe Bridgers and U2.

Prediction: I’ve given up on my annual “Conor Oberst on SNL” prediction, which almost guarantees this is the year it’ll happen.

Over The Edge is a monthly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at tim.mcmahan@gmail.com.

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Lazy-i Best of 2020 Compilation

Relive the year gone by with the  Lazy-i Best of 2020 Comp CD!

The collection includes my favorite indie tunes I’ve come across throughout last year as part of my tireless work as a music critic for Lazy-i. Among those represented: Waxahatchee, David Nance, Bright Eyes, Digital Leather, Sufjan Stevens, Run the Jewels, Fiona Apple, Nathan Ma, Criteria, McCarthy Trenching, HAIM, Future Islands, No Thanks and lots more.

To enter, send me an email with your mailing address to tim.mcmahan@gmail.com. Hurry, contest deadline is TONIGHT, Monday, Jan. 4, at midnight.

Or listen on Spotify. Simply click this link or search “Lazy-i Best of” in Spotify, go to the Playlists tab, and you’ll find the 2020 playlist along with a few from past years, too!

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2021 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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Soundtrack to a Pandemic (the top 40 Nebraska recordings 2020); Flight School, Lightning Stills, Simon Joyner new music…

Category: Blog,Column — Tags: , , , , , , — @ 1:02 pm December 4, 2020
Some artwork for the top Nebraska releases in 2020.

So Bandcamp Friday (today) is the day in which you can purchase downloads via Bandcamp, and all the money goes to the artists because Bandcamp is waiving their cut. With that in mind, I pushed online my column in this month’s issue of The Reader. It’s a listing of 40 Nebraska recordings released during this, the Year of Our Covid 2020. Included in the story are links to all 40 recordings on Bandcamp, wherein you can buy, download and listen to the best our state has to offer.

You know, The Reader didn’t do a “music issue” this year, and as such, didn’t publish a Reader Top 20 (and the next whatever). This list of 40 releases is as good as it gets considering no one was out performing or touring this year. These artists threw their wares to the masses anyway, knowing that they wouldn’t be able to support their album releases with live shows.

With that in mind GO TO THE STORY NOW and check out the list, click through the links and download/buy some music and support local area artists while hearing some damn fine sounds. Another way to help the artists out is by sharing The Reader story on your social media channels so others can discover what we already know.

Couple more things…

Flight School is a musical project of studio engineer/musician/genius Ian Aeillo. Ian doesn’t like it when I call him a genius, he thinks I’m funnin’ him, no matter how many times I tell him I’m not. The guy just can’t take a compliment. Fact is, Ian was involved in a number of the 40 recordings I mentioned in my Reader column.

Anyway, this morning, Flight School dropped its latest digital full-length effort, This Will Get You There. It’s 21 songs Ian wrote for his favorite vocalists, none of which sing on any of the tracks, leaving you with just Ian’s fine instrumental music. I asked him to list the “favorite vocalists” on the Bandcamp page so we could try to guess who went with which song, but he wasn’t having it. Buy/download/listen here.

Also online today, Lightning Stills (a.k.a. Craig Fort and band) released his entire debut EP Sings His Songs, which wasn’t expected to drop for awhile, but this being Bandcamp Friday, he said ‘what the heck.’ Check out the recording here, buy and download!

And for one day only (today), Simon Joyner is making available for download at Bandcamp Ten Songs (Home Demos for 2021 Album). These are demos recorded on his phone over the past few months that he’ll use as reference while working on songs, but the sound quality is hella good (certainly better than those early Sing Eunichs! recordings!). Go, buy, download here.

That’s it. If you’re going out, wear a mask (as if I had to tell you that!). Have a great weekend!

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily (if there’s news) at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2020 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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Have we taken live music for granted (in the column); it’s time to write your representative (again)…

Category: Blog,Column — Tags: , , , , — @ 12:14 pm November 16, 2020
Skeleton Crew: Conor Oberst joined Phoebe Bridgers on stage at The Troubadour in West Hollywood during the live-streamed Save Our Stages Festival Oct. 21, 2020.

The National Independent Venues Association (NIVA) is making another push for you and me to write our representatives in Washington to get the Save Our Stages Act included in the next COVID-19 relief package, which is apparently being negotiated now.

All you have to do is go to this web page and fill out the form. You can use their sample letter or write one of your own. Once you hit the submit button, it’ll go to the right offices of your Congressional representatives. It really does only take 30 seconds and it could make all the difference.

Click this, go there, and do it now.

Along those lines, the November issue of The Reader is out now with my column that focuses on the Save Our Stages efforts while asking if we’ve taken live music for granted. It’s online at The Reader website, here and I’ve also included it below. Please to enjoy:

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Have We Taken Live Music for Granted?

#SaveOurStages is a lifeline for the live music industry

As I type this I’m watching the Save Our Stages Fest (#SOSFest) on Oct. 21, a few weeks before the election. Indie phenom Phoebe Bridgers and her band are dressed in skeleton costumes played alone in the West Hollywood bar where Elton John, Joni Mitchell and Linda Ronstadt paid their dues.

Singer/songwriter pals Conor Oberst and Christian Lee Hutson joined in the streamed event. A little over halfway through the set between songs about death and loneliness Phoebe turned to the camera and said, “Click the donate button because….” After a long pause Conor chimed in: “Because we need a place to play.

That was the reason for SOS Fest. The three-day virtual festival featured 35 artists performing at 25 venues beamed directly to your computer or phone screen, with proceeds benefiting independent music venues impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As you read this, the election is (hopefully) over. No matter who won, there’s still a shit-ton of problems to solve thanks to COVID-19. Somewhere on that long list after “figure out a way to keep people from dying (or at the very least from catching the disease)” is “figure out a way to reopen the rest of the country for business.”

While 90 percent of U.S. businesses have reopened, the first businesses to shut down — the bars and music venues — are still closed. And many could stay that way for a very long time.

Beginning in April, the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) — a group of more than 2,900 independent music venues and promoters — has lobbied Congress to pass legislation that provides recovery funds and tax credits to help venues survive during the pandemic. First it was the Save Our Stages Act, which passed in the House; and now the HEROES Small Business Lifeline Act is being considered in the Senate as part of the CARES Act.

NIVA asked music fans to write their lawmakers urging them to support the bills, and they have to the tune of nearly 2 million emails. (And more letters are needed. You can write your representative from this handy page on the NIVA website. It only takes 30 seconds!).

But here we are on Oct. 21 and Congress has yet to pass anything, while the future of the live music industry grows bleaker and bleaker. According to a survey of NIVA members, 90 percent of independent venues will close permanently without federal aid in the coming months.

We’re already seeing it here. The Lookout Lounge on 72nd Street closed permanently earlier this summer, and The Barley Street Tavern in Benson gave up the ghost in September. What role COVID-19 played in those closings is uncertain, though it no doubt helped rush some decisions. Now I’m told a third well known club is on the verge of shutting down.

And while two of the best stages in Omaha — The Waiting Room and Reverb Lounge — have reopened, they’re only booking comedy acts and cover bands at very limited capacity shows. Downtown showcase The Slowdown held an outdoor festival in its parking lot featuring local acts just to remind people it was still there, though its doors remain locked.

With stages dark, musicians also toil in darkness. According to Business Insider, with the decline in album sales, live events provide 75 percent of all artists’ income. Strangely, thankfully, a ton of new music has been released during the lock down (including albums by Bright Eyes and Phoebe Bridgers) despite the fact that no one is touring.

Three things:

One: Legislation will pass. It has to. It may not be ’til after a new Congress is in place (or heck, it may happen before this column sees print), but it will happen. Too many people have been without for too long. The assistance needed for bars and venues to survive that’s outlined in SOS and HEROES acts will be among the law’s provisions. But it won’t be near enough.

Two: We will climb this mountain of a pandemic and come out on the other side. But it’ll take more than a vaccine. It’ll take a concerted effort by everyone, regardless of political leaning, to do what scientists say we need to do.

And three: Venues will reopen at full capacity, and bands will begin playing and touring again. But, god help us, it may not be until this time next year, or even later. And when the smoke clears, the venue landscape will look very different.

Once people feel safe again, fans will flock to clubs like they never have before thanks to a hunger for live entertainment. But you’ll be surprised how quickly people forget what they’ve been through.

The sad fact is we’ve always taken live music for granted. While ticket prices for arena shows have gone up around 30 percent over the past five years, according to Fast Company those increases haven’t kept up with prices for other forms of entertainment.

It’s the same story for small touring bands that, prior to the pandemic, were lucky to get home from tours with anything in their pockets. Ticket prices for touring indie shows have risen only gradually over the past five years, always being outpaced by the costs required to tour.

And then there are local shows.

I’ve covered live music for more than 30 years. When I started, the cover charge to see live, original bands was $5. Thirty years later, the cover at small clubs is still $5 for local shows, while some larger venues have pumped it up to a whopping $7 or $8. Try splitting that between three bands and a sound guy.

Why are we willing to spend up to $15 to see a movie, but won’t spend $15 to see a live local band, to hear music performed in front of our eyes by living, breathing musicians who put themselves out there for our amusement and/or enlightenment? At the end of a typical night at a rock club, too many local bands go home with nothing except an empty wallet and a hangover.

And yet, I’ve never talked to a band that didn’t want to keep doing it. For them, it’s all about the music. It’s certainly not about the money. Why can’t they have both?

Over The Edge is a monthly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at tim.mcmahan@gmail.com.

Originally published in The Reader, November 2020. Copyright © 2020 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily (if there’s news) at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2020 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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Indie music’s Libera Awards tonight (will Saddle Creek take home the prize?); Dereck Higgins live stream…

Category: Blog,Column — Tags: , , , — @ 12:50 pm June 18, 2020
Dereck Higgins performs a live streamed concert tonight at Low End.

Who doesn’t like an awards show, especially one focused on music?

No, I’m not talking about The Grammy’s, I’m talkin’ ’bout the Libera Awards, brought to you by the American Association of Independent Music (A2IM), the trade group for the indie music industry.

For the first time, the awards show is going to be streamed live for free, tonight starting at 5:30 p.m.

It’s sort of like the Grammy’s for indie rock. For example, the bands nominated for Album of the Year: FKA Twigs, Angel Olsen, Brittany Howard, Orville Peck and Big Thief. Big Thief, formerly on our very own Saddle Creek Records (now on 4AD), also is nominated for Best Alternative Rock album, and will be performing live at the ceremony.

Once again this year, Saddle Creek Records has been nominated for the Label of the Year (Medium) award, alongside 4AD, ATO, Sacred Bones and Drag City. Will the Creek take home the coveted Libera? You’ll have to tune in to find out. Register for free here.

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Also tonight, Omaha legend Dereck Higgins is performing a virtual concert streamed live from The Bemis Center’s Low End performance space.

For his performance, he will play a variety of his electronic compositions with live accompaniment as well as improvise several ambient pieces created on the spot,” Bemis writes. The stream begins via Facebook and Twitch (twitch.com/bemiscenter) starting at 8 p.m.

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Finally, this month’s Over the Edge column in The Reader is all about the fashion of face masks, and includes an interview with Fashion Institute Midwest’s Denise Ervin. Who would have thought Billie Eilish and Gucci could be so precog as to know face masks would become fashion staples months before the pandemic? Read the column here.


Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2020 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Lazy-i

Write your congress person!; FXTHR^ (a.k.a. Dustin Bushon) tonight…

Category: Blog,Column — Tags: , , , — @ 1:40 pm May 14, 2020

FXTHR^ live streams tonight from Low End at the Bemis.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

There hasn’t been a heckuva lot to write about music wise over the past few weeks. At some point we’re going to start to get an idea how the clubs are going to react to COVID in regards to reopening their stages, but who knows when that’s going to happen.

You saw what Slowdown is doing in the interim, and while it’ll be a fun distraction amidst this void in live entertainment, it is by no means a true replacement. BTW, someone asked where the money’s going for those Slowdown shows, and the answer is the bands and crew, according to Slowdown’s Jason Kulbel.

In the meantime, if you haven’t gone to NIVA website and sent a letter to your reps in Washington telling them to get off their asses and help save live music, you should. The link is right here. It’ll take you 30 seconds.

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Speaking of live streams, there is one tonight being brought to you by the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, specifically the folks who opened Low End late last year. Tonight they’re hosting a live stream featuring the noise/art/rock act FXTHR^ a.k.a. Dustin Bushon. Joining him is visual artist Alex Myers.

The stream begins at 8 p.m. You can watch live on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bemiscenter/ and Twitch: https://www.twitch.tv/bemiscenter . More info here.

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Last but not least, due to a back-office/clerical/editorial error, my Over the Edge column wasn’t published in the May issue of The Reader, which was devoted to writers’ COVID-related experiences. The column is online, however. Read about how I’m adapting to COVID-19 and learn about a 1971 film starring Charlton Heston. Check it out. I should be back in the printed pages of The Reader next month, barring any more snafus…

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2020 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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